Novels by USA Today bestselling and multi-award winning author Hank Phillippi Ryan invariably garner rave reviews that include words like “bingeworthy” or “Propulsive, smart, twisty and impossible to predict.” Hank is widely acknowledged as a gifted storyteller and a publishing pro. Generally accepted knowledge is that she is not just charming and wonderful, but that this smart, savvy lady knows what she’s doing. I wanna be like her!

So it may surprise you to learn that Hank—even after 14 published novels, five Agatha Awards, five Anthony awards, and the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award—still suffers from the same trepidations, hesitations, and fears experienced by most every other novelist. Read on to discover how this career author manages to overcome obstacles and write terrific novels of suspense like The House Guest, described by James Patterson as “Great! What a pleasure to read this!” 

  1. What’s the title of your book—and was that always the title?

I thought I had the perfect title from moment one. Because the bereft and baffled and vulnerable Alyssa Macallen really needs a friend… and then she gets one. So what could be a better title than Her New Best Friend? Perfect. And months’-worth of manuscripts had that title. But finally, the publisher decided that because the previous book had been called Her Perfect Life, Her New Best Friend sounded like a sequel:  first “Her” perfect life, then “Her” new best friend. It sounded like the same “her.”

So the struggle began.

Endless story short, it came down to The House Guest or The Guest House. And isn’t it fascinating how those are two completely different books? But since it’s not about a place so much as it is about a person, it became, happily, The House Guest.

But who is the house guest? You cannot tell that from the title—or even from the cover.  

  1. Who’s the main character of your book—and was that always their name?

The main character of the book is Alyssa Macallen. She is a determined and smart woman who was flourishing in a Boston law school when she met and fell madly in love with her husband-to-be, Bill. Bill was older, powerful, affluent, and in love with her as well. And very, very… well, he gets what he wants. 

I started out with her name being Ailsa. Ailsa. And her last name was always Macallen. Although sometimes: Mac Allen. Or McAllen. Or Macallan. But finally: Ailsa Macallen. 

I loved it. (I had initially thought she would be Gianna Delaney, but I decided that was too cute).

Anyway, my editor hated that name. Hated it! She said, “No one will know what ‘Ailsa’ is, and they’ll just think it’s Alyssa.”

Fine. So Alyssa it was. (Actually, that’s not her real name, but you’ll have to read the book to find out more.)

  1. At the start of the book, what’s the character’s goal?

Alyssa has just been dumped by her husband, unceremoniously and mysteriously. So, from moment one, Alyssa’s goal is to find out what the heck happened.

Why would someone who you think you are happily married to—and think they’re happy too—suddenly pack up and walk out? Of course, Alyssa thinks it’s another woman, but there’s just no sign of that! She’s left alone, and friendless, on the verge of a devastating divorce, and fearful that her gaslighting husband—or is he?—is about to leave her with absolutely nothing. We meet her when she’s at her very lowest. She’s alone and terrified. And then, Alyssa meets a new friend. And Bree offers a tantalizing idea. Maybe they can solve each other’s problems.

And then, the FBI comes to the door.   

It’s Gaslight meets Thelma & Louise meets Strangers on A Train. But not the way you might predict.   (The Library Journal starred review calls it “Binge-worthy”!)

  1. What was the core idea for this novel—a plot point? a theme?—and where did it come from?

Here’s exactly where the story began. I had an acquaintance who went off to her fabulous job every day, and her husband went off to his. It wasn’t ’til years later, when the police arrived at the door to arrest him, that she discovered that he had never gone to an office at all! It turned out, his whole work life was imaginary, and he had been home at the computer every day doing hideous illegal nefarious things that we won’t even discuss.

And she had no idea. No idea!  How could you not know? Could she possibly not know? That’s the question I wanted to answer. 

So The House Guest is not about an imaginary office at all.  It’s about how well we really know the person who’s sleeping next to us. And what do we do when we find out. 

  1. At what point did you come up with the final version of the first line? What is it?

The first line was the first line, word for word, from the first moment I wrote it. 

“Alyssa swirled the icy olives in her martini, thinking about division.” 

  1. Did you know the ending of the book when you started?

One hundred percent no. Not at all. Not even a clue. I didn’t even know who was good or who was bad. I did not know who was the cat, and who was the mouse.  In fact, in all my fourteen books, I’ve never known the ending until I get right up to the moment of truth. And yes, I will admit there are several days of panic before that moment. Weeks, even.  Sometimes I wish I knew the ending in advance. It might be easier. But it might not be as good.

  1. What’s something in this book that you’ve never done before?

I’ve had multiple points of view in all of my previous standalone thrillers. The House Guest, though, is one point of view—just Alyssa. And wow, that was quite a challenge. But I absolutely adore how it turned out, so personal and so relatable and so revealing, and I think it’s the only way this book could have worked.  

  1. What part of your tour (or launch week) are you most excited about?

I’m going out on a real book tour! It’s wonderful and quite daunting. With real people, in real airplanes, and with real events. And real masks.

It’ll be astonishing to see everyone again. When the pandemic started, I was at a huge event in West Palm Beach, and I will never forget how much I wanted to come home. So this is quite the step. I hope you will all come to see me. Here’s my incredible event schedule. 

  1. Who in your #WritingCommunity deserves a special shout-out for supporting you in writing this story? Why?

May I say the Career Authors? Every single one of the Career Authors, Dana, Paula, Jessica, and Brian (and Jon Stone behind the scenes) have been with me throughout. They encouraged me on the days that I knew The House Guest would never ever work, they commiserated on the days when the book swelled to 125,000 words, and they cheered me on during the editing process.

Every question I ever had, they were there to answer. I cannot imagine writing a book without them.

  1. How do you want readers to feel when they close the book? 

There’s a line in the book—you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you deserve. I want my readers to close the book and say: “Yes! All the loose ends are tied up, all the questions answered, and that’s exactly what should’ve happened.” And, my other favorite response: “I never saw that coming, although I should have.”

  1. What did you learn from this book? About writing, or life, or the writing life?

I learned to be patient. I learned to not panic when I am having a bad writing day, and just… keep writing. There are days when I think oh my golly, I am the worst author who ever attempted to write anything. And now I just say to myself, yes, this page is pretty darn terrible. But you can fix it later. Just go on

It’s empowering to allow myself to be terrible from time to time! Because I have confidence, finally, that I will be able to make it glorious during the editing process. (Knock on wood.)

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HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the USA Today bestselling author of 14 thrillers, winning five Agatha Awards, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award, and 37 EMMYs for her. investigative reporting in Boston. Her newest novel is the page-turning standalone THE HOUSE GUEST – a story of psychological manipulation that explores the dark heart of marriage and friendship—it’s Gaslight meets Thelma & Louise! The Publishers Weekly rave review says, “Ryan is a master of a suspense.”